LeDoux diagnosed with ALS

MINNEAPOLIS -- Scott LeDoux once went blow for blow and toe to toe with several heavyweight greats during a resilient, if unspectacular, career in the ring in the late 1970s and early '80s.

Last summer, this 6-foot-2, now-250-pound former boxer realized he could no longer button his shirt.

"I thought it was arthritis in my shoulder," LeDoux said.

If only it were that simple.

The 60-year-old LeDoux was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, he confirmed this week. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, attacks nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and robs from people who have it the ability to move and speak. The majority of patients die from respiratory failure within five years of the progress of symptoms, though there are exceptions.

There is no cure, however, and few options for treatment.

"You've got to look at it as a fight in the main event," said LeDoux, a lifelong Minnesotan nicknamed "The Fighting Frenchman" who finished with a 33-13-4 record according to the Web site boxrec.com.

Indeed, LeDoux's past will certainly help shape his future. The mental stamina required to stand in the ring and spar for seven rounds with Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight title is surely on LeDoux's side as he deals with the onset of the disease. He fought to a draw with Leon Spinks and Ken Norton and was stopped in the third round by George Foreman before losing to Holmes in his home state by technical knockout in 1980.

The diagnosis last year left him very afraid, however, and very sad. His second wife, Carol, urged him to take antidepressant drugs.

"Suicide wasn't an option for me," LeDoux said in a phone interview from Florida, where he was traveling. "As my wife explained to me, 'What would I do if I left my kids before my time and left my grandchildren before my time?' So that's my goal: to fight the fight."

LeDoux's first wife, Sandy, died of cancer, as did his parents. He's also found support and valuable advice from former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek, whose father died of the disease, and the wife of ex-Vikings linebacker Wally Hilgenberg, who was stricken three years ago and passed away last September. Mary Hilgenberg encouraged LeDoux to put aside any pride or stubbornness and start using a walker to get around.

"I took it on my trip," LeDoux said, "and it's been really helpful for me. It's steady."

LeDoux has held several jobs since he left the professional fighting circuit, and he currently serves as a commissioner in Anoka County -- an exurban area north of Minneapolis -- as well as executive director of the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission.

"I will continue to do that until I can't," LeDoux said. "I'll work and work and work. I've never been shy of work."

That's an attitude he learned growing up in the northern Minnesota town of Crosby. He played football at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he began to take up boxing. He developed a reputation as a fun-loving fighter, who once accidentally kicked the toupee off of Howard Cosell's head while the famous sportscaster conducted a ringside interview with Johnny Boudreaux after a fight LeDoux believed he should have won.

Even now, LeDoux hasn't lost his sense of humor. He said his wife recently went to a hospital with a bad bout of bronchitis, and she was prescribed a steroid to treat the sickness.

"She's 5-foot-4 and 125 pounds," LeDoux said, laughing. "I asked the doctor, 'What, is this going to turn her into a muscle-bound freak?'"

That lightheartedness, as well as his faith, will also be big parts of his fight. LeDoux became a Christian in 1993 after quitting drinking, following the death of his first wife.

"God forgives and forgets in the same breath," he said.

He's endured some controversy during his time as the state's boxing commissioner, and he's lived through his share of trouble. But those who've worked with him will quickly note his gregarious nature and generous contributions to charity.

Dan Erhart, one of LeDoux's fellow county commissioners, said he was "very troubled" and hit with a "terrible helpless feeling" upon learning last year of LeDoux's condition.

"We have our differences and we have our debates, but we pull together," Erhart said. "We know what it is to function like a team. Scott has been a very good team member. In knowing and being recognized by a lot of people, he's opened a lot of doors and has presented us a lot of opportunities to reach through those doors. We will be on his team, and we will continue to move forward and continue to provide Scott with anything he needs to function in a productive manner within the county."

Erhart has followed boxing his entire life, but conversations with LeDoux have brought a greater appreciation of the fortitude necessary to participate in the sport.

It gives him, too, some hope for his friend.

"Who knows?" he said. "Miracles happen."